Why Identifying Race Perpetuation Racism
In light of the Baltimore Riots, following the Ferguson Riots, following the need for Affirmative Action, and the Civil Rights Laws to replace Jim Crow Laws, the matter of race has continued to flash across new screens.
“Black Victim” “White Cop” “Black Culture”
Social media campaigns geared towards one race, such as #BlackLivesMatter have been countered with campaigns like #AllLivesMatter, gearing towards equality for all races.
But the only way we can promote equality between races, is to disregard race entirely. Eliminating race as an identifying characteristic and treating each person as an individual, with respect and dignity, is the only way we can eliminate racism in our country.
Using race as an identifying factor only lumps that individual with every other person of that race, regardless of any other similarity or difference. Identifying race, especially in media, only perpetuates racism by setting the boundary between races.
We are not Americans. We are white. We are black. We are Hispanic. We are Asian. Italians and Australians, both white, classify them together. South Africans are white, right? They can go in there too. Nigerians and Jamaicans are both black, so classify them together. Are people from the Dominican Republic black, or hispanic? I guess each person can decide for themselves. An extra eye flap eyes and olive skin makes a person Asian, right? Lets put every person from Japan, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, and even the Polynesian Islands in the same classification, because they all look alike so they obviously share the same culture.
No, that’s racist. It doesn’t do well to dwell on physical characteristics and forget to embrace an individual’s cultural pride.
There is a difference between cultural pride, and race. Culture is the way of life for a people of shared national origin or community. This could include their customs, music, art, food, social behaviors, and language. Culture is passed down through the generations with traditions.
Race, on the other hand, is a term used to describe a broad group of people based on similar physical features, regardless of their national origin, current status, or culture. People of the same race did not grow up together, and therefore do not automatically think alike. They may not share the same viewpoints, religion, body structure, medical records. Therefore, identifying a person by their race does nothing to support an argument.
Racism does not mean “hatred for a specific race”, but rather the believe that all members of a race share the same defining characteristics or abilities, setting them apart from other races. If race is a broad group of individuals, and every person is unique, how can we believe that every member of a broad group shares the same characteristics? This is asinine.
Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, faced extreme backlash following her win for being of Indian descent, from people who misidentified her race as “Middle East” and ignorantly placed her in the sub-category of “Islamic”. Indian is a national origin. Middle Eastern is a race. Islamic is a religion. These are not synonymous.
Nina spent her year of service, and continues to be an advocate today, dedicated to celebrating diversity through cultural competence. She encourages and empowers people to understand their culture and be able to answer questions. Education changes everything, and when people have questions it is best to give them solid answers. She believes that by embracing your culture we can promote unity, not by using race as a divider.
Imagine if the race card was used in every headline, from this point forward. For giggles, let’s explore a few headlines of a local newspaper in Upstate New York:
White woman gets prison time in drug case; White engineers to begin creek study; White county executive named to state workforce board; White woman accused of resisting arrest; White man drove drunk with baby.
Woah, talk about a mind shock. One word, one adjective, suddenly changes the whole connotation of each of these five news articles. Imagine if an editor let their staff use race as an identifying characteristic for all of the articles. The public would reject the idea, the subscribers would cancel their memberships, and the company would go belly up.
Unless the race was a minority. Then it is important for the viewers to know, so they can subliminally and mentally lump that person in with every other person of that race. That’s ok, right? Because only white folk read the news, and identifying the race of the people mentioned is what sets them apart from the readers. False. This is simply not true.
Back in high school I used to say, “I’m not racist, my best friend is black.” I know now, that is a racist statement. Because mentioning race doesn’t eliminate the stereotypes, it highlights the fact that it is there, and highlighting race is a sign of racism. This statement also implies that the person who says it is significant for having a black friend. In truth, that person was not my friend because she was black. I wasn’t trying to increase the diversity of my friendships. She was my friend because she was a kind, honest, hardworking, and funny person. The color of her skin did not make her a good friend. Her heart did.
Culture is what sets us apart and makes us unique. Culture is welcoming, and meant to invite people in. Race is a boundary we made ourselves, based on a physical similarity. Race is designed to set people apart and hold people out.
So here’s the challenge. Think Ice Bucket for ALS, but without the videos going viral. Remove race terminology from your vocabulary. Think of other ways to describe your friends, your neighbors, or strangers in your life. Avoid using language to preemptively classify individuals in a degenerating culture, and start judging a person based on their personal actions, their statements, and their individuality as a person.
Maybe then, we can move forward. We will never be a melting pot, like our forefathers once considered this great nation. But instead, let’s be a salad bowl. We still have our separate cultures, but they work together to be one amazing, great flavored salad. Let’s work together to move forward as a nation, and make positive change in the world.